The Kimchi-ite: Seoul’s Spectacular Lotus Lantern Festival

Every year, Buddha’s Birthday is marked in Korea by a sea of draped lanterns. The holiday itself is not until May 17 this year, but that has not stopped the festivities from starting early. Most streets surrounding Buddhist temples have a colorful array of lanterns strung from their lampposts. The temples themselves often feature an entire canopy created by a rainbow of lanterns. And as part of the festivities, a parade featured tens of thousands of lanterns in the shape of a lotus flower, an important symbol in Buddhism.

Seoul’s weather is now finally reaching that perfect equilibrium of sunshine and cool breezes, and the best place to see some of the city’s lanterns is at an outdoor exhibition on Cheonggye Stream.
The lanterns turn the already beautiful Cheonggye Stream into an absolutely dreamlike landscape. Skyscrapers dressed in flashing lights tower above as you walk along a tree-lined bubbling stream underneath a rainbow of paper lanterns. Couples and families walk around with nothing but smiles on their faces. There are no gimmicks here, no entrance fees and no celebrity appearances, just wonderful paper lanterns.

The wealth of colors of the paper lanterns play beautifully well off of the stream.

In the middle of the stream lie elaborate lanterns made of traditional Korean hanji paper that depict various aspects of Korean life, history and culture – including dragons, pagodas, wildlife, Buddhist ceremonies and traditional dances.

Located right in the heart of the city, Cheonggye Stream is one of the best places to visit in Seoul, with or without lanterns.

The lanterns depict various aspects of Korean and Buddhist culture.

Buddhism is an important aspect of Korea culture and is widely practiced throughout the peninsula.

Cheonggye Stream is an incredible place to just relax and hang out, with or without a festival.

Cheonggye Stream is one of the best places to visit in Seoul. Formerly a highway overpass, it was reconstructed into a stream in 2005 and has been wildly popular with locals and visitors ever since. It’s a truly unique place, similar in concept to the highline in New York, that cities across the world should take note of – a peaceful oasis in one of the world’s busiest cities that is also just around the corner from a 600-year-old palace, a neighborhood of traditional hanoks, the best book stores in Korea, an impressive arts center as well as the president’s residence.

Smaller lanterns depicting wildlife are scattered around the stream and represent more traditional lanterns.

While the Lotus Lantern Festival is definitely not to be missed, there is also another lantern festival on Cheonggye Stream of equal beauty, the Seoul Lantern Festival, which will be held in November this year.

To delve further into Korean culture, dig into the Kimchi-ite archives by clicking here.

Amazing Race 14 recap 9: Guilin, China is a splendid place

Watching the teams navigate Guilin, China was a splendid episode of reality TV. Whoever set up the tasks for Amazing Race, episode 9 nailed the best of what China offers in a series of aesthetic pleasures. It wasn’t the choreographed, technological feats of the Beijing, Olympics, but the classic architecture, early morning ballroom dancing in a city park, bamboo rafts, and art, all with craggy hills as a backdrop.

Unfortunately, a bit of drama fueled by tension got in the way of two of the teams’ enjoyment of their surroundings and the warmth of the people that they encountered. While Luke and Jen were involved in shoving matches, I soaked in what I remembered about those details I loved about living in Taiwan.

First there were the neon signs that took up every available space when Jen and Kisha dashed out of the airport in Guilen ‘s streets and into a taxi when it was still dark. By the time they arrived at the the first clue box outside a hair dresser’s shop, the morning’s buzz had begun.

Since Luke and Margie arrived at the clue box at Qing Xiu Lu at the same time as Jen and Kisha, there was the first shove as Jen tried to reach around Luke to grab a clue first. In the heat of the moment, each thought the other was at fault, and Jen called Luke a “bitch” since it was a “bitch move.” After the first shove, steamed up, off they went to #24 Bridge on the banks of the Li River where Tammy & Victor and Cara & Jaime had already arrived because of better luck with directions.

Victor & Tammy were happy as can be to be speaking Chinese and didn’t seem too bothered that the other teams globbed onto them whenever they could to take advantage of their language know-how. Listening to these siblings speak Chinese was a bonus of the episode since it offered a more personal perspective on a place. Plus, their relationship is a far cry from when Victor was almost weeping after getting them lost on a Romanian mountainside near the beginning of the race. Now, they are getting along well and seem to be having a blast.

At the Li River, after the team members were poled out into the river in one boat, one member from each team had to sit on a narrow bamboo raft to train a cormorant bird to catch fish. This was a task reminiscent of a show at Sea World. After a team member tossed a fish into the river, the bird was to fetch it to bring the fish back in its mouth. This was repeated until the team member had 10 fish in the basket. If you are near a cormorant bird, don’t get it riled. They have a nasty bite that draws blood as Luke found out. Once the fish were in the basket, it was a matter of getting poled back to shore with the basket along for the ride.

Then it was off to the Ancient South Gate for their next clue and task. The gate, built 1,000 years ago, is a feature common to many Chinese cities. Hsinchu, the town where I lived in Taiwan, had the East gate left of the four that once were important features of the city. The gate was a gorgeous structure that was my favorite spot to hang out.

At the gate’s clue box–which meant another shoving match for Luke and Jen, the teams had to choose between how to do calligraphy or how to ballroom dance. The calligraphy, actually, was the easiest, although there were many steps as teams went from calligraphy person to calligraphy person copying characters until they got to the artist who gave them the painting of the real life scene–the Sun and Moon Pagodas at Banyan Lake that they were to look for which would lead them to the Pit Stop.

Early morning ballroom dance classes or Tai chi are common features of parks in Taiwan as well. Other typical park features are the circular shaped doorways to other park sections and the curved bridges the teams crossed. Central Island was no different.

While Margie & Luke, Jen & Kisha and Victor & Tammy did the calligraphy task, virtually at the same time, and Cara & Jaime were learning the dance routine which gave them a bit of trouble. Mark & Michael were having a blast washing two women’s hair at their Speed Bump. They followed that good time with a great time with the fishing task and ball room dancing. They weren’t quick enough to make up for their 4 hour time delay and Speed Bump penalty from last week’s episode, however, and were eliminated. Too bad. These two are really fun.

Jen & Kisha were the first to dash to the Pit Stop across from the Sun and Moon Pagodas at Banyan Lake with Victor & Tammy and Luke & Margie a close second & third. This was the first time the sister duo won first place. For their better showing than last week, they won a trip to Barbados which includes swimming with sea turtles.

After the win news, Phil tried to smooth over relationships between Luke & Margie and Jen & Kisha, but to no avail. Here’s my take. For Luke and Margie, the race has added stress because he can’t hear. There’s also the issue of him growing up feeling like he is often on the outside, and Margie needing to intercede more frequently than other parents. I have deaf relatives and have seen misunderstandings arise that usually take more work to smooth over than when all parties can hear. Hopefully, after the cameras stopped rolling, there was more conversation to clear up the misunderstanding once emotions calmed down. Tammy & Victor seemed to be allies of both of these teams and felt bad. Hopefully, their lawyer skills came in handy.

As for Mark & Micheal, there were some terrific shots of their race that summed up what a wonderful time these two had. They epitomize the best of cross-cultural travel. Every time they interacted with the people they came in contact with, they smiled, took time to soak in their experiences, and exuded warmth. They might be smaller than the average man, but what great, big hearts. As Michael said, “This world is a wonderful place.”

Oh, one more thing–I loved the sweet couple eating at the Pit Stop. They were such a pleasure to watch and so Chinese. They reminded me of so many people I came across in my own travels–very unpretentious and kind.